Steel City is rusted on for Labor local Bird

Jun 21, 2016 Stephanie Chinneck, Peter Ko, Dylan Hopcroft
Blue collar, not blue ribbon in Cunningham. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Sitting Member:
Bird, S (ALP)
Size of electorate:
519 sq. Km

Electorate Profile



Australian manufacturing has seen better days, but in the seat Cunningham, home to a major port and steelworks, the blue collar vote still counts.

Cunningham spans much of the Illawarra region - centred on the city of Wollongong - and is a hub for brick, textile and metal production.

Sitting member, Labor's Sharon Bird, got 45.5% of the vote at the last Federal polls in 2013, compared to the Liberals 33.6%.

Bird will be tough to take out in the historically Labor-held seat. She has previously been elected here in 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013.

But Bird shows no sign of complacency, campaigning hard to retain her safe seat. Her slogan is ‘Working For Us’, a play on the idea of the workers having someone working for them for a change. Bird's background as a school teacher also extends her appeal to more upper-middle class voters.

Labor's iron grip on the seat since 1949 has only once been interrupted when the Greens stole and held it temporarily in 2002-2004.

The Liberal candidate in 2016 is Michelle Blicavs, who has had 27 years of experience in small business and the not-for-profit sector.

Although she raised her family in Wollongong, not much is known about Blicavs, apart from the fact that she was CEO of the Executive Women International Association for Public Participation in Austral'asia.

Whether this resonates in a city pre-occupied with the uncertain future of its steel manufacturing base remains to be seen. The shadow of China's all powerful manufacturing industries hangs over the Illawarra, reducing the competitiveness of local steel and threatening jobs.

Illawarra local, Luke Davidson, 33, told UniPollWatch, “I definitely think Bird will win again, she has won so many times before, and people have gotten used to her style of leadership.”

Tracy Morgan, 23, reluctantly agreed. “I’m a Lib, but I think everyone here has gotten used to Sharon, I wouldn’t mind if we had a new candidate though, for a new style of leadership.”

Even Greens voters aren't expecting to relive their past glory in the seat. One of them, David Prentice, 21, said “I think Sharon will win again. It’s always been a Labor seat. I’m a Greens supporter personally, but anything that’s not a Liberal government will do.”

Whoever wins in Cunningham, they'll need to make a lot of noise about the future of local manufacturing before its drowned out by fierce competition from abroad.

2013 Election Results

Candidate Party Votes % Swing(%)
CLIFFORD, Philip Liberal 30685 33.65 +0.80
ATLEE, Christopher James Palmer United Party 4253 4.66 +4.66
WILSON, Helen The Greens 10730 11.77 -3.35
GEORGE, Rob Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group) 2204 2.42 +2.42
BIRD, SharonElected Labor 41522 45.54 -3.63
BURSILL, John Leslie Katter's Australian Party 886 0.97 +0.97
FLANAGAN, John Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting) 897 0.98 -0.41
...... Socialist Alliance 0 0 -1.46


Stephanie Chinneck

Peter Ko

Dylan Hopcroft


Story fact-checked by Darcy Munce. Image sourced by Yewei Yang

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